John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

The latest episode of the weekly show Last Week Tonight had the host travel to Russia to interview Edward Snowden and suggest to him how to frame the issue in such a way that ordinary people could relate to and become as outraged as they should be about the extent of US government surveillance.

Oliver started the program by discussing the fact that the USA Patriot Act is up for renewal in June of this year and why the infamous section 215 that allowed the administration to use as an excuse to unleash its vast surveillance program needs to be revised. (See Glenn Greenwald’s take on the program.)


  1. Mobius says

    John Oliver is brilliant.

    Framing the questions around pictures of your junk was inspired.

  2. DonDueed says

    Outstanding interview.

    I like Noah (from what I’ve seen) but I really wish it were Oliver taking over The Daily Show.

  3. says

    PATRIOT will be renewed, because the “representative democracy” in the US … isn’t. Even if polls showed that 90% of citizens favored reining in intelligence gathering against citizens (it’s about that, I believe) 90% of Congress don’t favor it. Guess whose opinion matters?

  4. says

    What I had been hoping for never happened. I had hoped that Snowden was sneaky enough to run searches on a bunch of Congresspeople and wealthy and famous people’s data. And that he was waiting until everyone in Washington had patted themselves on the back for containing the embarrassing situation, only to have Snowden release captures of the Koch Brothers’ email traffic, and a couple of Senators’ txt flirtations with their aides, and a few corporate moguls’ extramarital affairs and drug deals. All those big-shot financial moguls, like Mitt Romney -- their phone calls to their tax-sheltering accountants are all in those NSA storage arrays, too. They don’t care about your dick being in an NSA vault, but they care about their crimes being there.

    The only way that anything would have changed would have been if Snowden had been able to show the people that matter that the issue matters to them. Which, he failed to do. Since the 99% don’t matter, and the surveillance doesn’t visibly affect the 1%.. aaah, fuck it.

  5. doublereed says


    While I am cynical as well, Sensenbrenner and Leahy are serious players in the debate. To act as if there aren’t significant bipartisan coalitions in congress against it is simply incorrect. There’s not actually that much money to be thrown at this issue. It doesn’t threaten the military-industrial complex that much, and other forces like the NRA are against it.

    The oligarchy is more divided than you’re making it seem.

  6. starskeptic says

    Disappointed that he simply did a “Daily Show” style interview rather than let the absurdities speak for themselves; it was a rather abrupt disconnect from the tone of the studio set-up for it.

  7. lorn says

    The simple fact is that if you transmit anything electronically it is likely captured, more likely by characterization rather than substance at first, but given how inexpensive digital storage has become, odds are the substance can be dug up or inferred.

    Ironically, assuming you are not in prison, one of the hardest methods of communication to tap is the US Postal Service. A letter in an envelope enjoys a lot of protection by virtue of its physicality , laws, and customary special status of the mail. No worries, there is a program that records addresses, return addresses, weight, time, and date of some, potentially all, mail so while content is still mostly sealed the communication is logged.

    Yes, the Patriot Act will get passed with little or no changes. The argument for keeping it as it is is simple and frightening, the bad guys will kill us all. Whereas the argument for reform is subtle, nuanced, and involved accepting some small amount of risk for protection of rights the American people don’t appreciate because they take them for granted. The bottom line is that the American people don’t do subtlety or nuance. Making it about dick pics shifts it away from nuance enough for it to register but you can’t keep it up for long enough to make any changes.

  8. says

    The oligarchy is more divided than you’re making it seem.

    They’re divided about the details of how they are going to rule, but passionately in agreement that they are going to rule. Apparent divisions are either window-dressing or irrelevant.

  9. says

    What surprises me no end is how Snowden got the job with the NSA in the first place. How did someone so thoughtful, so intelligent, so concerned about ethics get hired by an agency that despises human rights and democracy?

    As for Oliver being blacklisted because of his association with Snowden, he wouldn’t be the first. In the 1950s, Pierre Trudeau (long before being an elected member of Canada’s parliament) was barred from entry into the US. He had visited the Soviet Union in 1952. During the trip, Trudeau was briefly detained by the KGB after throwing snowballs at the statue of Lenin.

  10. Mano Singham says

    In interviews, Snowden explained that he joined the NSA in the wake of the 9/11 attacks because he was swept up in the horror of that event and wanted to prevent any future attack. It is only later that he realized what the NSA had become.

  11. Sunday Afternoon says

    @lorn (#8):

    Making it about dick pics shifts it away from nuance enough for it to register but you can’t keep it up for long enough to make any changes.

    I see what you did there…

    Titter ye not!

  12. doublereed says


    Eh, I would imagine many people working at the NSA are the more libertarian sort, because that’s an aspect of hacker culture. And they want good hackers.

    I don’t think Snowden is an exception because of that. He’s an exception because he actually went through with the whole thing.

  13. Ewgenij Belzmann says

    @starskeptic (#9) Well, the anthem of Russia uses the same melody as the Soviet anthem, just the lyrics are different, so it’s not exactly wrong.

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